Day One: Leaving Toronto and Starting the Trip
Last Monday evening, our Amtrak/VIA Rail Maple Leaf from New York to Toronto fell behind schedule by about fifty minutes. But with the engineer really moving us along, we made it into Toronto’s Union Station only five minutes late. We had worried about how we would entertain ourselves during he 13½-hour ride but we did fine. Sometimes the journey was a little tedious but we had no big problems. As expected, we got to have lots of naps!
When evening came, and as darkness began to fall, we loved experiencing – from our side of the train – possibly the most beautiful Harvest Moon we’ve ever seen. So gorgeous that even other passengers were noticing it. And on Tuesday, our Toronto dinner companion agreed, commenting that it looked like the moon was a huge ball that had just been dropped out of the heavens. We liked that description.
But no photos of our Harvest Moon, of course. The train was moving too fast and it was soon too dark to focus for a picture.
Tuesday was our day in Toronto and the city turned out to be just as lovely as we remembered, with Toronto quickly going on our list for another – and longer – visit in the not-too-distant future. And the Fairmont Royal York Hotel itself turned out to be just as grand as we remembered.
Formerly and still commonly known as just “the Royal York,” it was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway and opened in 1929. It is a huge, Châteauesque-type building located just across Toronto’s famous Front Street from Union Station. From our point of view (since we came into Toronto by rail), it is probably the most convenient hotel in the city. It certainly was for us.
And speaking of “our point of view,” from the window of our room at the hotel we could see one of the art moderne “gargoyles” that decorate the building’s exterior.
Wednesday morning (another early start!) we returned across the street to begin our journey. It’s kind of hard to describe our excitement, since neither of us had ever done anything like this before. Andrew, as a youth, had traveled throughout Canada with his parents, and I had dreamed about a trip like this since I was a boy, but this was different. While each of us had often traveled by train for relatively short distances, this was the first time either of us had been challenged by a four-days-and-four-nights train ride.
We shouldn’t have worried. Starting at Toronto’s Union Station was in itself a pretty thrilling first step. The main entrance leads into what can only be referred to as a monumental space. Known informally as the “Great Hall,” it covers the entire length of the main section of the building, and it features, as described by one authority, “enduring materials such as bronze, limestone, marble, tiles, and translucent glass [to] create a sense of enduring quality.” Certainly that was my and Andrew’s impression.
The on-boarding process was extremely well organized, and unintentionally even had its own level of excitement for Guy and Andrew. With the help of the good hotel staff handling the luggage we went to be checked in, all done effortlessly. The next step was to process the bags to go in the baggage car, and we stupidly found ourselves in the wrong line. Once we realized it (and watching the clock every minute), Andrew rushed off to find where we should go, and when we got there, the nice lady taking our bags noted that we had almost missed the train! And indeed we were the last passengers to board. Not an omen for an easy trip, but it turned out to be just a false alarm for us.